Ed Miliband needs to define himself in the mind of voters before David Cameron and the Tory election machine does it for him, one of the key architects of president Obama's reelection victory has warned.

Stephanie Cutter, who served as Obama's deputy campaign manager in 2012, said to win the next election Labour needed to communicate a positive message with a sense of "urgency" rather than just focusing on the coalition's failures.

"When you're running against an incumbent, whether it's an incumbent named Barack Obama or David Cameron, there's a temptation to turn it into a referendum on the sitting leader," she said.

"Elections are about choices. The election was not a referendum on the president but instead a choice between Obama and Romney. As Joe Biden likes to say: 'Don't compare to the All Mighty, compare to the alternative'."

The Tory reelection team have long thought that Miliband's comparatively poor personal ratings with the public compared to Cameron's may hold the key to victory. The strategy was behind personal attacks on Miliband and repeated continued attempts to paint the "Red Ed" Labour leader as too left-wing.

Addressing a group of Labour activists in Westminster on Wednesday evening, Cutter, who now works for CNN, said the party should learn from the strategy the Democrats used in 2012 - before the Tories used it against them.

"Mitt Romney thought all voters needed to know was his name was not Barack Obama. His campaign focused on making the case against Obama rather than making the case for Mitt Romney. That was a crucial error. What he should have been doing was defining himself as a candidate, presenting a case for why he was the better choice."

She added: "By the time he figured that out it was too late. Because while the Romney campaign failed to introduce or define their candidate, we decided to step up and do it for them. We launched a comprehensive campaign push aimed at acquainting voters with the real Mitt Romney. As you might imagine, the portrait we painted wasn't a very flattering one."

Cutter was speaking at the event organised by LabourList alongside senior Miliband aide Lord Wood, former Obama campaign staffer and now Labour digital campaign adviser Matthew McGregor and former Gordon Brown aide Kirsty McNeill.

Cutter, who also worked on John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign among other senior posts in Democratic politics including the White House, suggested Miliband needed to present a "positive vision" for the future rather than just focus on unpopular coalition policies.

"People gravitate towards those leaders that have positive vision for the future," she said. "Voters had no idea where Mitt Romney wanted to take the country. He was too busy complaining about the present to offer plans for the future."

She added: "Voters want to hear about the better future Ed Miliband has in mind for the UK. It can be easier to bash an incumbent than articulate the promise of a new candidate and his vision. Sometimes its more fun even. As both John Kerry and Mitt Romney learned the hard way, that's not a way to win an election.

Cutter said while it was important to highlight unpopular Tory policies, the case for where the country would head with Miliband in Downing Street needed to be made with a "sense of purpose and urgency".

In August the Conservatives scored a coup by securing the services of Cutter's former boss, Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina. Cutter warned that the Tories were trying to learn the lessons of the last presidential campaign.

Asked by the Huffington Post UK whether she was disappointed to see Messina work for the other side, she said: "That's a decision for Jim."

"Jim and I were colleagues. We haven't discussed the UK election at all or his decision to join Cameron. Or my coming here. We haven't discussed any of it," she said. "I do know that he is very skilled. There is a lot the Tories are trying to learn about what we did in 2012. And that shouldn't be proprietary information to just the Tories."

WATCH: Behind The Scenes Video Of Mitt Romney's Election Campaign

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    President Barack Obama waves to his supporters after his speech at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. At right is Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Michelle Obama, Barack Obama

    First lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama acknowledge their supporters at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jill Biden

    First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden acknowledge supporters at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Michelle Obama, Barack Obama

    First lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama acknowledge their supporters at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jill Biden

    First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden acknowledge supporters at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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    President Barack Obama flashes a thumbs up as he leaves the stage with Vice President Joe Biden at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha arrive at the election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Jill Biden

    President Barack Obama celebrates with his wife Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama addresses supporters at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama

    President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks at the election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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    Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to President Barack Obama at their election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by first last Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha arrive at the election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • President Barack Obama and wife Michelle is holds hands with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill following Obama's victory speech to supporters in Chicago early Wednesday, Nov. 7 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jill Biden Joe Biden

    President Barack Obama with first last Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden celebrate on stage at the election night party at McCormick Place, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Barack Obama, Joe Biden

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden celebrate on stage at the election night party at McCormick Place, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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    Jill Biden watches as Vice President Joe Biden is hugged by first lady Michelle Obama at President Barack Obama's election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • President Barack Obama smiles after delivering his victory speech to supporters gathered in Chicago early Wednesday Nov. 7 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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    US President Barack Obama accompanied by daughter Malia, First Lady Michelle and daughter Sasha waves to supporters as he arrives on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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    US President Barack Obama claps as he arrives on stage to deliver his acceptance speech on November 7, 2012 in Chicago. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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    US First Lady Michelle Obama hugs US President Barack Obama as they celebrate on election night November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won re-election to a second 4-year term. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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    (L-R) US First Lady Michelle Obama, US President Barack Obama, US Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden celebrate on election night November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama and Biden won re-election to a second 4-year term. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama (2nd L), First Lady Michelle Obama (L), Vice-President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden wave to supporters following Obama's speech on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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    US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden celebrate on stage after winning the 2012 US presidential election November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama swept to a emphatic re-election win over Mitt Romney, forging new history by transcending a dragging economy and the stifling unemployment which haunted his first term. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama (2nd L), First Lady Michelle Obama (L), Vice-President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden wave to supporters following Obama's speech on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama hugs his daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R) on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R) wave to supporters on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden celebrate winning the 2012 US presidential election November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by defying the dragging economic recovery and high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    (From L-R) First Lady Michelle, US President Barack Obama,Vice-President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden acknowledge supporters following Obama's victory speech on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle celebrate winning the 2012 US presidential election November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by defying the dragging economic recovery and high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden celebrate winning the 2012 US presidential election November 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by defying the dragging economic recovery and high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    (From L-R) First Lady Michelle, US President Barack Obama,Vice-President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden acknowledge supporters following Obama's victory speech on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage with his daughters Sasha (2nd L) and Malia (R) and his wife Michelle in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage with his wife Michelle after delivering his victory speech ion Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama, flanked by First Lady Michelle Obama, points to his partner Vice-President Joe Biden, followed by Second Lady Jill Biden following his victory speech on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage with his wife Michelle after delivering his victory speech ion Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates with his daughters Sasha (2nd L) and Malia (R) and US First Lady Michelle Obama in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    Confetti rains on the stage as US President Barack Obama celebrates his victory in the presidential election in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    (From L-R) First Lady Michelle, US President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden acknowledge supporters following Obama's victory speech in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates with First Lady Michelle Obama on stage on election night in Chicago on November 6, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama celebrates with his daughters Sasha (R) and Malia (2nd-L) and US First Lady Michelle Obama in Chicago on November 6, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    (From L-R) US President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Second Lady Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle acknowledge supporters on election night in Chicago on November 6, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R) wave to supporters on election night in Chicago on November 6, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama and family arrive on stage after winning the 2012 US presidential election in Chicago November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by defying the dragging economic recovery and high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up after winning the 2012 US presidential election in Chicago November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by defying the dragging economic recovery and high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama (C) applauds at supporters on election night in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION-OBAMA

    US President Barack Obama (C) celebrates with vice president Joe Biden and his family members along with the First Family members on election night in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)